Filipino hospitality at its best for the ASEAN

- The Philippine Star

An informal survey revealed that 90 percent of Filipinos welcome this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Philippines to host the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and Related Meetings, which also coincides with the 50th founding anniversary of the ASEAN.

For the next three days, we will be in the global spotlight with 20 heads of state plus the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Many Filipinos especially the ladies are looking forward to seeing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whose Halloween stunt sent social media afire – showing up at the House of Commons in Canada as DC Comics’ Clark Kent/Superman.

The most anticipated arrival is that of US President Donald Trump whose advance party arrived two weeks ago to check on security arrangements. President Trump is arriving today with close to 800 people who make up the US contingent, including American media.

There is a lot disappointment though that Donald Trump is not going to be with his “secret weapon” – US First Lady Melania Trump who stayed behind in China before heading back to the United States for an event with US troops in Alaska. Many Filipinos have been looking forward to seeing the US First Lady who successfully engaged in “panda diplomacy,” charming the Chinese with her “grace, sense of style and cultural sensitivity” as she visited the pandas in a Beijing zoo, cooked with kids and scaled the Great Wall of China.

It will be an overwhelming and hectic schedule for President Rodrigo Duterte, with the special gala dinner in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN to be held at the SMX Convention Center at the Mall of Asia Complex in Pasay City tonight. The president will probably be working straight 18-19 hours in the next couple of days, with the opening ceremony of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits starting early tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, followed by the plenary and various meetings/summits at the Philippine International Convention Center. 

The president jokingly said that he is an underpaid government employee, but he did say that for the country, he was more than happy to do it. Aside from the heads of state and their spouses, foreign dignitaries, government officials and select business leaders have been invited, with guests estimated at 1,500 for the special gala dinner.

I am delighted to know that the four-course Filipino-Asian fusion menu will be prepared by Chef Jessie Sincioco in collaboration with Sofitel Philippine Plaza. Chef Jessie also prepared the meals for Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to the country. We are proud to say that Chef Jessie was also an awardee of PeopleAsia magazine.

Several of our local top singers will perform, with a marching band lending a fiesta atmosphere to the occasion. Local talents will also be performing dance numbers that include ballroom, tap, folk, and modern. 

Filipinos are well known for their warmth and hospitality, treating guests and visitors to the best of the best they have to offer. This is why the government is pulling out all the stops to showcase the best of our artistry and culture – starting with the five giant lanterns made by the famous San Fernando, Pampanga lantern makers welcoming the heads of states and the rest of the delegation. The design of the lanterns represents the 50 years of ASEAN, and they also highlight the Filipinos’ fondness for celebrating the holidays with great cheer.

Fashion watchers both here and abroad are also excited to see the clothes made by three of the country’s top designers – Rajo Laurel, Albert Andrada and Randy Ortiz – with barongs for the heads of state and Filipiniana gowns for their spouses.  The ladies’ gowns take inspiration from the three island groupings of the Philippines – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

First Lady Honeylet Avanceña will be hosting the social events for the leaders’ spouses who will also get a sweet taste of Davao through the special Malagos chocolates made from carefully graded beans that are fermented and solar dried at the Malagos Farms in Davao City. The Malagos chocolates are world-known, having received numerous accolades and awards in international competitions, the latest of which include two bronze awards for its sweetened dark chocolates and a silver for its unsweetened dark chocolates at the 2017 Academy of Chocolate awards in London.

But as expected, the usual suspects are carping about the country’s hosting of the 31st ASEAN Summit and 50th founding anniversary celebration, saying the amount set aside for the preparations and the activities could be put to better use – conveniently downplaying the fact that this milestone event will bring in large returns in terms of tremendous goodwill as we can demonstrate that the country is politically stable, our democratic institutions are very much alive and at work, and that the government is working hard to make the Philippines an attractive investment destination as seen in the ambitious infrastructure agenda of the administration.

As they say, we have to put our best foot forward, which is why we can never “over prepare” especially in terms of security arrangements for 20 heads of state present. This will naturally cause a lot of inconvenience for the people but fortunately, Filipinos are a very understanding, tolerant and resilient people especially if the importance of an occasion such as the ASEAN is explained well to them and are given advance information about traffic rerouting, no fly zones and other details that can help them adjust their schedules. When all is said and done, we can proudly say that we are a naturally hospitable race.

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